There is no single, prescribed Anthroposophical art style. But many pieces of Anthroposophical art have certain qualities in common, and the art displayed in Waldorf schools often reflects these qualities. Perhaps the most concise summary is that such art is otherworldly, infused with a mythic conception of the cosmos, a dream of spiritual transcendence. In most cases, verifiable reality is blurred, fractured, or otherwise obliterated in order to suggest alternative, "higher" realities.
Here are examples of the kind of art you may see in Waldorf schools.
The first three images correspond closely to types of pictures I remember seeing in the Waldorf school I attended.
Most Anthroposophical art is representational in that it is meant to depict spiritual beings or states that, according to Steiner, are real. In some instances, however, the resulting compositions must strike most observers as abstracts or near-abstracts. Image #1, above, bridges the divide; it is part of the abstract background in a representational illustration for a fairy tale that Steiner considered especially important:
[Rudolf Steiner Press, 2006.]
Image #2, above, is more nearly a pure abstraction — although among Anthroposophists such images are generally taken to be expressive, inspirational evocations of the spirit realm. The image in this case comes from the cover of an Anthroposophical booklet I bought in 1963 when some of my Waldorf schoolmates and I toured the worldwide Anthroposophical headquarters, the Goetheanum:
[Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961.]
Image #3, above, is fairly typical of Waldorf "veil paintings," in which multiple layers of translucent paint are laid down, creating the impression that we are gazing through multiple gauzy veils. Such images imply the ability to "pierce the veil" — that is, the ability to see beyond apparent reality in order to apprehend the hidden, spiritual reality that lies beyond. Several of the paintings we will see, below, employ or emulate this technique to one degree or another. (Note that while image #3 is monochromatic, veil paintings are often multicolored.)
[Rudolf Steiner College Press, 2004.]
(To consider some Anthroposophical beliefs about sleep
and the states of consciousness that occur during sleep,
The Waldorf school I attended was more circumspect than many of its sister schools about revealing the occult beliefs that underpin Waldorf education. Perhaps for this reason much of the art I remember seeing in our school tended to be, in the Waldorf/spiritualistic sense, abstract. Here is an example of the kind of painting our talented art teacher, Elizabeth Lombardi, often created. The cover art of this book (written by her father) clearly has spiritual meaning, but it might be difficult to say precisely what that meaning is. Thus, I would label the painting — in a Waldorf context — abstract or nearly so.
[Anthroposophic Press, 1996.]
More "abstract" (or abstract-ish) Anthroposophical art:
Representational Anthroposophical art (with abstract-ish elements):
[Floris Books, 2008.]
Once you become sensitized to Anthroposophical art, its character leaps out despite differences in the styles and techniques adopted by various artists. While no central authority requires Anthroposophists to adopt particular artistic practices, a general conformity has gradually developed, and various leading practitioners have offered instruction and guidelines that have had wide effect.
[Floris Books, 2000.]
There's no arguing with taste, I guess. • Perhaps because she was my art teacher, I see considerable merit in Elizabeth Lombardi's work. • I must admit that Monica Gold's paintings give me a pain — they seem to me sappy and saccharine, reviving all the worst memories from my Waldorf years, the pathos of Waldorfian fantasy and the flight from reality it promoted. • The meaning of Arild Rosenkrantz's pictures is similarly disquieting to me, but I must admit I find much of his work attractive. If I set aside the occult doctrines he sought to convey, I can appreciate the talent he so strikingly possessed. • D'Herbois's work seems to fall neatly in the Anthroposophical middle, offering what may be seen as "typical" Waldorf/Steiner/Anthroposophical art. Of course, to some extent this may be a circular observation, since her texts have helped defined the Anthroposophical middle.
A "Waldorf-inspired" window hanging.
The use of color in Anthroposophical art tends to be constrained, following indications given by Steiner. Colors are generally presented in or around their prismatic sequence, reaching from purple through blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and back to purple again. Some variation is permissible, but not much. Like everything else in Anthroposophical belief, color is thought to have spiritual meaning and power, and it must be handled with these in mind.
A Waldorf color wheel,
showing colors in their prismatic order
and the complements of the colors,
suggesting the relationship
between the colors of our world
and the colors of the world beyond ours.
[R. R., 2010.]
"If you take the usual diagram [of the spectrum] found in physics then all you have is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. Now if I do not show it as it appears on the physical plane but as it is in the next highest world, I would have to bend the warm and cold sides of the spectrum...." — Rudolf Steiner, COLOUR (Rudolf Steiner Press, 1992), p. 37.
The ultimate Anthroposophical artist was, of course, the Master: Rudolf Steiner himself. Here are two images of his monumental sculpture, The Representative of Humanity.
Statue by Rudolf Steiner —
with a little help from his friends.
Steiner is credited with this creation,
and he may have done
some of the actual sculpting.
But much of the work was done by
sculptor Edith Maryon.
These are public domain photos. Above, a close-up of Christ, the Sun God. Below, Christ standing beside Ahriman (the lower of the two demonic figures) and Lucifer. The two evil beings are appropriately monstrous. Lucifer is a relatively handsome tempter, but his skeletal, serpentine body gives him away. Ahriman is just plain gruesome. The figure of Christ is more problematic. In his lectures, Steiner described Christ as the heroic ideal for humanity, the prototype of perfected human nature. Yet the figure shown in the sculpture is distorted, strained, and awkward — from his scarred forehead to his claw-like hands. This is surely one of the least attractive sculptural depictions of Christ ever. Steiner and Maryon did their best, presumably, but the result is grotesque, in my humble view. (To give Steiner and Maryon their due: They sought to convey the suffering that Christ endured for humanity's sake.) I retain enough of my Waldorf conditioning to find some Anthroposophical art attractive; but not this.
Despite the earnest efforts by Steiner and his followers to find appropriate artistic forms for their visions, none of the representational images we've seen accurately depicts the spirit realm as described by Steiner — a place of qualities, extensions, and colors, but not of line, definition, or spatial form. Only abstract art can picture such a realm. Students at Waldorf schools are led to create appropriately abstract images when they use wet-on-wet watercolor techniques, which make precise control of form almost impossible. Likewise, some Anthroposophical art created by adult artists is almost wholly abstract, superficially: pictures that consist largely of color washes with few if any forms except for geometric figures that may be taken as meaning almost anything spiritual or high. Here, for instance, are the covers of two central Anthroposophical texts. The paintings in both cases are by Barbara Richey.
[Anthroposophical Press, 1994.]
[Anthroposophical Press, 1997.]
It is possible to interpret these images as meaning this or that, but in fact they do not present clear, precise images of anything except generalized spiritual essences. They depict, to the extent such depiction is possible, the spiritual realm as described by Steiner: "[T]he world from which the soul descends has no spatial forms or lines, [but] it does have color intensities, color qualities. Which is to say that the world man inhabits between death and a new birth...is a soul-permeated, spirit-permeated world of light, of color, of tone; a world of qualities not quantities; a world of intensities rather than extensions.” — Rudolf Steiner, THE ARTS AND THEIR MISSION (Anthroposophic Press, 1964), p. 23.
With such pure Anthro art in mind, I have created abstract paintings for use here at Waldorf Watch. I have not always tried to mimic full-blown Anthroposophic expression; I have generally allowed my own sensibility to guide my hand. But remembering the wet-on-wet paintings that my classmates and I created at a Waldorf school, I have aimed for a sort of spiritual suggestiveness.
A wet-on-wet painting by a Waldorf student,
courtesy of People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools:
A couple of my own paintings:
[R. R., 2010.]
I have also tried my hand at some representational art. Generally, in such work, I have copied representational art created by Anthroposophists, including Rudolf Steiner himself. The limits of my artistic abilities — for which I apologize — quickly become apparent. But my purpose is not to show off my "talent;" it is to represent the Anthroposophical view to the best of my abilities as a former Waldorf student. Of course, I do this now as one who wishes he had attended a different school, one where the days and years might have been used to better account — that is, a school where in addition, perhaps, to fiddling around a bit with arts and crafts, I might also have been given an actual education.
A variant of an occult seal:
a woman clothed with the Sun,
with a red dragon having seven heads;
my copy of an image in
MYSTIC SEAL AND COLUMNS
by Rudolf Steiner (Health Research, 1969).
[R. R., 2010.]
This is my copy of a tapestry design,
"And he was made man,"
by Walther Roggenkamp, shown in
ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER,
by John Fletcher
(Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 219.
[R. R., 2010.]
This is my sketch of the monumental sculpture
of Christ, Ahriman, and Lucifer
that stands in the
See, e.g., GOETHEANUM
(Philosophical-Anthroposophical Press, 1961), p. 14.
[R. R., 2009.]
Drawings that accompany Anthroposophical texts often consist of multiple, parallel lines. These "shaded drawings" suggest the permeability of phenomena, their openness to spirit. This is a "technique taught in Waldorf schools in which the picture is built up by drawing short, slanting lines [evokes] creative, dynamic forces at work in nature." — H. van Oort, ANTHROPOSOPHY A-Z (Rudolf Steiner Press, 2011), p. 98.This is my copy of two elements of a drawing by Assia Turgenieff (ART INSPIRED BY RUDOLF STEINER (Mercury Arts Publications, 1987), p. 187).
Sometimes the same technique
is used to illustrate abstractions.
This is my copy of a representation of thinking
as illustrated in Rudolf Steiner in
FOUNDATIONS OF ESOTERICISM
(Rudolf Steiner Press, 1982), lecture 19, GA 93a.
The image as it appears in the book.
And here's a veil painting of my own, emulating a typical Anthroposophical/Waldorf style, suggesting a vague — but undefined — spirituality, implying passage from one level of existence to another, beyond:
For some samples of art created
by recent and current Waldorf students,
— Roger Rawlings
To visit other pages in this section of Waldorf Watch, use the underlined links, below.
◊◊◊ 5. THE WALDORF APPROACH ◊◊◊